Fight Quest: Paying the Ferryman Across…
It’s 3:00pm…my heart is racing, I am covered in my own stink and sweat and the tops of my bare feet and elbows are throbbing. While my lungs reach for it’s next breathe, I see my vague reflection through the humidity-fogged mirror in my home gym. You would never know that I ran the Philadelphia Marathon or stand strong at an 11% body fat, the way I sound…Weezing like the asthmatic kid in gym class. I look hunched over and spent. After all of this, I think how embarrassing it is that this is how I look after only my first real week conditioning for hardcore MMA Training.
Rewind back to May of 2010…Weighing in at close to 300 lbs at 5’ 6’’, I had a passion for Little Debbie’s Swiss Cake Rolls, Pizza & Extra Dark Lagers. As I sat in my 44-Waist blue jeans in my friend’s plush New Jersey home, a house full of people watched the latest UFC Pay-Per-View on his new plasma television. I loudly vocalized my passion for MMA and how badly I wanted to ”get in on all the action,” yet I could not figure out why the living room up roared in laughter. Had I looked in the mirror, I would have seen that the person in the center of the room talking about MMA aspirations was two-fisting a cheese steak and a beer, simultaneously and looking a bit like Chris Farley Tommy Boy. Alas, the irony did not fall upon me. Then, in June, as I was outside chain-smoking a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights, in front of my job, I received a call from my Mother. As intelligent and well-spoken as she can be, one minute, she can instantly shift gears and be the sassy, sarcastic & aggressive Gal from Astoria, Queens, the next. This call, however, was neither hilarious nor sarcastic. Recently, she had been diagnosed with Stage-Four Blood Vessel Cancer…Angiosarcoma. Despite her hard-nosed attitude toward the situation, she sobbed on the other end of my cellular phone, that afternoon. But not because she was scared about her disease…she was scared for me. In between whimpers, she begged me to look in the mirror and see that I was destined to put my own beautiful children through the Hell of watching me die early unless I committed to getting healthy, again. How do you disregard the pleas of a sick and crying Mother? I couldn’t bare to placate to her and just fill the phone with blanket affirmations until she hung up. So, that night, I came home from work and threw out my remaining cigarettes and joined the local gym.
It started off as a joke. Every time a friend asked me why I was at the gym six of seven days a week or why I stopped ordering take-out, I would refer back to that UFC Viewing Party when I was laughed out of the room. “I’m training for MMA!” I would reply. But, as my lungs got stronger and the weight began melting off, people began to take the witty retort a tad more seriously. “Really? Where do you want to train?” is a question I would get in the place of what used to be just laughter. Suddenly, I realized I had to ante up with just how serious I really was, myself. I started working with a local boxing coach at my gym to learn the fundamentals of moving and controlling my newly shaped body. Striking, blocking, moving…these were all things I did not have to do while grazing in a snack-food bag on my couch in my previous incarnation. But now, it seemed important to me if I were to have deeper aspirations of mixed martial arts. So, weekly classes turned into creating a home boxing gym to continue practices as the mood struck, daily. It wasn’t long after that strength training, protein supplements and core conditioning became just as important as the cardio that brought me back from a state of morbid obesity. I was happy to feel like I was training for something!
On weekends, my five year old son Mikey comes to the gym with me. After his Kiddie Cardio Classes come to an end, he watches me box, run, lift and even train others as a Certified Staff Trainer wearing a matching Superman t-shirt to the one that adorns me, dripping wet and smelling a bit like the Men’s Locker Room. For me, I’d always been a fan of The Man of Steel as stories and photos would spin about how my Grandfather looked just like Kirk Alyn…the first man to play Superman in 1948. So much so, in fact, that all of the ladies in the neighborhood would swear he was hiding a cape beneath his mild-mannered dock worker attire. So, it has always been my personal rite of passage to “earn the honor of an S on my chest.” But, for my Son, who just loves to be the center of attention, its less a spiritual quest and more about getting a kick out of the women coming out in droves from Zumba Class to tell him how adorable he looks. On one particular day, however, Mikey was showing off a different shirt..his new Tapout gear I bought him. We loaded up at the local WaWa on apples, bananas and salads for a healthy post-workout snack and, while standing in line, this gigantic and menacing looking character approached us. Before I could stand in front of my son and exclaim “Run, Mikey! Save yourself!” the man pulled out a business card and complimented the Tapout clothes. As we got to the car, I read the credentials he had given me. It was for a show called The MMA & Sports Xtreme Show. I spent the rest of the day, at home, watching back episodes, online. After my wife could stand me hidden in my Computer Room, no longer, I left my trusty high-speed internet connection to take my family out to dinner. The whole night all I could do was talk about how ready I was to take the next step in living up to the “Training for MMA” quip from so many months before. A week later I searched for MMA Trainers in my area and a name appeared within the sea of Google listings that was local to my area. Upon clicking the link, I was routed directly to…The MMA & Sports Xtreme Show website! I made the call and begged for the shot to be trained…the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, I work with James “JJ” Jefferson in and out of the grapple gloves; Working with potential Supporters & Sponsors of the famed MMA & Sports Expo coming to Philadelphia in two weeks and getting pummeled by multiple days a week! I get to see, first hand, that there is no checking out this sport. It is a community and you are either active in it or you are just a spectator of the product that comes from it. There is no gray area. It’s a life decision that goes beyond something as idiosyncratic as signing up for a cardio kick-boxing class in a random franchise gym.
So, I sit here and type this, wondering what I should tackle next…make more calls following up with promoters for the big Philadelphia MMA & Sports Expo? Or do I go back to hitting and kicking the heavy bag? I’m sure James would say to do BOTH, as he is the self proclaimed King of Multi-Taskers. But first I think I’m going to look for some Aspercreme! Ah, the World of MMA….this is TRULY as real as it gets!
See you next time, True believers. And remember…you gotta EARN your honor.
By: Ricky “Toll Taker” Sperrazza